What makes a brick wall?

08.40, Friday 9 Sep 2022

There’s a wall we pass on the way to nursery and it’s crumbling – my little girl was asking what the bits were. So that got us talking.

Well a brick wall is bricks and mortar. But that seemed insufficient when I said it out loud.

A brick wall is bricks, and mortar, and pattern.

That’s where I landed. Without the pattern the wall wouldn’t stay up. So it’s an ingredient, just the same, even though it belongs to a different category.

I suspect if I asked a bricklayer this would be absolutely obvious. So it’s only a surprise to newcomers and those, like me, with ontological blinkers.


When I’m running (I’m not running much at the moment) my mental model is that I’m training up four things, and they have to be balanced – I can’t get to longer distances unless they all improve, so there’s always one that is lagging, and so I work on that.

Three are physical: heart, puff, muscles (strength and stamina).

And also: will.

Will is definitely something which is trainable. Not just gaining confidence in one’s own capacity, but the ability to endure tedious middle miles, or training over months and months, or the last few miles of a race where so many other people are now walking and it would be so easy to join them.


Bread, famously: flour, water, yeast, salt.

Also - practice?

During the Sourdough Period I was baking every week or so. I’ve baked before so it didn’t take too long to get my eye in. Yet I’ve got photos, and the difference between the first loaf I was pleased with and the loaves a few months later is extraordinary.

Nothing changed, as far I could tell. I didn’t refine anything. I didn’t change my kit. I didn’t work to keep anything in mind. Just… my hands and my unconscious intuitions figured out how to improve on their own.

(If you drive, you’ll remember that learning to drive is wild. You learn to drive by trying to drive for about 12 hours. You don’t really have to think about it. You can’t improve by working harder. You just… sit there and give it time. Your body and your hindbrain figure it out.)

So practice is as important as any of the other four. Again a different category.

It’s a curious provocation whenever I’m making anything: what is the X? Assume there is one and make room for it.

I don’t mean outcomes. There is definitely an outcome-X factor in experience of architecture and apps and appetisers which emerges from I-don’t-know-what, and we do our best to create the conditions for that to appear.

I mean instead an input-X. What’s the ingredient, the thing I control, the quality I could be providing more of, to whatever activity it is I’m doing or whatever thing it is I’m making. And it may be hard to spot, because it may not be in the same category as the others.

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